Two days in Cork: a short break in the Rebel City

Full to the brim with excellent food, bustling bars and interesting attractions, Cork has all the ingredients for a perfect weekend away. Best of all, in this compact city everything is generally within easy reach of everything else – and far away from the crowds that descend on Dublin and Galway in high season. Use Cork as a base for exploring the wilder parts of the south, but make sure you spend a couple of days here to sample its own delights.

Strolling by the River Lee in Cork's city centre offers great views © Stephen Spraggon / Getty Images
Strolling by the River Lee in Cork's city centre offers great views © Stephen Spraggon / Getty Images

Day one – bells, markets and an old pharmacy

For the cutest start to your Cork two-dayer, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Tara’s Tea Rooms, sipping loose-leaf tea or freshly brewed coffee from dainty crockery and tucking into everything from a full Irish breakfast to delicate pastries. You might suddenly find you have room for more than you thought when you spot their delectable selection of cakes.

Delight and/or embarrass everyone around you by ringing the Shandon bells in St Anne's church tower © Ken Welsh / Getty Images
Delight and/or embarrass everyone around you by ringing the Shandon bells in St Anne's church tower © Ken Welsh / Getty Images

Work off your treats with a trip to St Anne’s Church to climb the tower and ring the famous Shandon Bells. You’ll be heading up more than 100 steps to get to the top, but it’s easy and fun to pause on your way to have a go on the famous bells and impress anyone within hearing range. Having entertained friends and locals, continue upwards and your reward is a 360-degree view of the city you’ll be exploring over the next couple of days.

After your descent, walk to the neo-Gothic wonder that is St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. While small in comparison to the cathedrals of other cities, the beauty is in the details. The interior is exquisitely ornate with incredible stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes. The grounds alone are worth the trip, with a serene meditation garden and an immaculately manicured labyrinth.

The Farmgate Cafe is an excellent lunch spot in the English Market © Nigel Hicks / Getty Images
Farmgate Cafe is an excellent lunch spot in the English Market © Nigel Hicks / Getty Images

Follow your nose to the English Market, a feast of local foodstuffs to suit all tastes. If you have access to cooking facilities, you’ll find fresh fish, meat, cheese and vegetables plus a treasure trove of unusual ingredients from around the world to pair them with in your own culinary creations. If not, stock up on bread, deli goods, cakes and even champagne for a picnic basket fit for a king, or, for something a little more formal, grab lunch at Farmgate Cafe. Sitting under the market’s wooden rafters above the bustling stalls below, this place has a menu specialising in Cork dishes using local ingredients.

Spend the rest of the afternoon, and maybe the evening, indulging in a spot of culture. Check the listings at the Triskel Arts Centre, a hub for exhibitions, concerts, art-house cinema and literary events. For theatre, it’s hard to beat the ambience of the Everyman, a beautiful Victorian-era building that can seat 650 people yet still manages to seem intimate while hosting first-class international and Irish productions.

For alternative nighttime entertainment, whisk yourself away to the darkly romantic surroundings of Arthur Mayne's. Given its previous incarnation as a chemists for 120 years, it might not immediately sound like a good spot to cosy up with your travel buddy, but the brick walls and dark wood of this wine bar, along with its displays of apothecary delights, will soon change your mind. It’s also one of the only restaurants serving food until 1.30am, leaving you plenty of time to work your way through the extensive wine menu.

If you still have anything left in the tank, Voodoo Rooms is less than a five minute walk away and offers two rooms of music and a hopping dance floor. If your tastes veer towards the electronic, Dali is all about deep house and techno and has a world-class sound system to boot.

Day two – brunch, ancient Ireland and trad music

After a long night, you might need a late start on your second day in Cork. Enjoy a leisurely recovery breakfast at Ali’s Kitchen. Tucked behind a gorgeous red brick facade, Ali’s is a huge hit with the locals thanks to a menu that’s small but perfectly formed, with everything made from scratch each morning. The ingredients are often sourced from the English Market or other local producers, and there are plenty of caffeinated and sweet treats to perk you up.

Clear the cobwebs with a walk in Fitzgerald's Park © Slongy / Getty Images
Clear the cobwebs with a walk in Fitzgerald's Park © Slongy / Getty Images

While away the afternoon in the pretty surroundings of Fitzgerald’s Park, a tranquil green space about a 25-minute walk from the city centre. Sitting along the River Lee, it boasts an excellent playground, the Cork Public Museum (interesting at any time and perfect if the weather isn’t being kind) and plenty of serene riverside spots to enjoy your picnic from yesterday (if the weather is being kind). Afterwards, stroll across the road to explore the lush grounds of University College Cork. A pretty campus in its own right, the highlight is the Aula Maxima Stone Corridor, which boasts a fascinating collection of Ogham Stones. These gravestones once marked the resting places of chieftains and bards with inscriptions of early Primitive Irish and are approximately 1500 years old. On your way out, pop into the Glucksman Gallery for some art therapy. This renowned gallery is home to eclectic exhibitions of contemporary works and installations made all the better for being housed in a beautifully bright space.

By now you’ll be strolling back to the city, and you could do a lot worse than trying to squeeze into Feed Your Senses to try their exquisite tapas menu. Cork has a big Spanish expat community, and Feed Your Senses is one of the most authentic places in the country to get a Mediterranean meal.

When in Cork do as Corkonians do and order a Murphy's © Bo Zaunders / Getty Images
When in Cork, do as Corkonians do and order a Murphy's © Bo Zaunders / Getty Images

You can’t finish your Cork adventure without a visit to Sin É, the city’s most famous home of Irish traditional music. Sunday is particularly popular, but sessions are hosted every night of the week. If you’re sitting near the musicians' corner downstairs, you’ll be expected to stay quiet and enjoy the music, but in other areas of the bar, you can chat away. Don’t leave Cork without trying a creamy pint of Murphy’s, a stout made in Cork and the city’s rival to Guinness. It’s fresher and arguably tastier than the capital’s contender and much more popular with Corkonians, so round off your trip with a pint and a sláinte.

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